There is no prize for perfecting yoga asanas, said Kathryn Budig in a workshop I took with her recently. As the poster girl for challenging poses, she would know. I know she's right. It's a lesson I've learned time and time again. I learned it when my teacher insisted I use props when I didn't want to. I learned it again when I fell on my face for the 100th time when I was learning how to arm balance. I should know this lesson by now. And yet, after nearly 10 years of asana practice, every time I unroll my mat it's a struggle to relax into poses and stop trying so hard to achieve something.
Asanas have always come relatively easy for me—I'm hyper flexible, started doing yoga at a young age, and have never had any major injuries to hold me back. That, of course, was before I became a mom. The last few weeks have been a different story. When I was pregnant, I missed the strength-building arm balances, deep backbends, and the excitement of challenging jump-throughs and inversions. (I also missed goat cheese and red wine, but that's not really relevant here.) I should have known better, but I thought after a few weeks of healing I'd be able to pick right up where I left off after my baby was born. WRONG! I also thought that if it took me a little longer to work back up to the poses I love I'd be OK with it—even more WRONG!
The first few times I unrolled my mat, I was a little devastated to discover that my core muscles were still weak 8 weeks after giving birth—WAY weaker than they had been at the end of my pregnancy. In a lot of ways, it was like I was going to have to start all over to build up my strength and endurance, and this time it would be harder than when I started practicing yoga 10 years ago. I'm older, and now that I have a little one, finding the time to unroll my mat will be harder than ever. Maybe I'm a little more attached to my asana practice than I thought. Oh hellllooo, ego!
After I've had a while to sit with it, I realize what a gift it is. I don't practice yoga because I want to twist my body into cool shapes (even though that part of yoga is really fun for me). Advanced asanas really serve no practical purpose other than what they reveal about you—and there's just as much to learn from Triangle Pose as there is from Peacock. Personally, I think here should be an award for recognizing that.